Sudan signs peace agreement with key rebel groups

Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace agreement with key rebel groups on Monday, a significant step toward resolving deep-rooted conflicts from the long rule of ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

The leaders of five groups signed the deal, including four from Darfur — where more than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since 2003 — and one from southern regions that say they were also marginalized.

But two major factions, one from Darfur and one from the south, did not sign and the cash-strapped transitional government will struggle to pay for the return of millions of displaced people and regional development promised in the deal.

“The main challenge facing us now is the implementation of the peace agreement, and finding donations to do that,” Jibril Ibrahim, leader of Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said after he and the other rebel leaders signed the agreement.

Corruption and brutal state repression mean Sudan, a nation of 42 million people, has been riven by regional conflicts for decades. The crisis intensified after its oil-rich south became independent in 2011, beginning a slow economic decline that fuelled the protests that pushed Bashir from power last year.

Dr. Gibril Ibrahim Mohammed, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, left, and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army leader Minni Arko Minnawi gesture after the signing of a peace agreement between Sudan’s power-sharing government and five key rebel groups. (Samir Bol/Reuters)

The civilian and military leaders who have shared power since then say ending internal conflicts is a top priority in the path to democracy for the once-pariah state. Analysts said Monday’s deal, signed in the South Sudanese capital Juba, was very important but left big gaps.

Jonas Horner, senior Sudan analyst from the International Crisis Group think tank, called it “a hugely significant sign of progress for Sudan’s transition,” but said it was far from comprehensive and significant hurdles remained.

Former pariah state

The deal offers rebels political representation and devolved powers, integration into the security forces, economic and land rights, and the chance of return for displaced people.

Along with JEM, it was signed by Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), also from Darfur, and by Malik Agar, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), from the southern South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.

Yasir Arman, the deputy head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, left, and Secretary General Ismail Khamis Jalab show a two-finger salute after the signing of a peace agreement. (Samir Bol/Reuters)

Two smaller groups, the Transitional Council Movement and the Coalition of Sudan Liberation Movement, also signed, but one major SPLM-N faction, and an SLA faction led by Abdel Wahed el-Nur, did not.

Yasir Saad Arman, deputy head of Agar’s SPLM-N’s faction, said holdout factions might join later.

“This will open the door for those who didn’t come,” he said. “It is a great chance for civilian protection.”

The United States, United Kingdom and Norway in a joint statement said they welcomed the peace agreement as a first step in rebuilding stability in the country.

“It is an important step in restoring security, dignity and development to the population of Sudan’s conflict-affected and marginalized areas. We believe the formal agreement must be followed up with local peace and reconciliation efforts in the conflict-affected areas,” the countries said in the statement.

Holdout factions

Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of one of the holdouts, wants Sudan, whose law is founded on Islam, to be a secular state.

Nationally, the rebel signatories will get three seats on the ruling council, five ministries, and a quarter of the 300 seats on the transitional legislative council between them, said Faisal Mohammed Salih, Sudan’s information minister.

The rebels also get 40 per cent of posts in their regional governments, which will receive 40 per cent of locally raised revenues, and a new fund will pay $750 million US a year for 10 years to impoverished southern and western regions, Salih said.

The conflict in Darfur ignited in 2003 after fighters took up arms against the central government, triggering a scorched-earth campaign by government forces and allied Arab militias that included ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual violence.

Bashir, who took power in a coup in 1989, was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 and 2010 for crimes against humanity.


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